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Emerging tools to help create virtualized test environments

Tools from Parasoft, HyperQube and CloudShell let admins virtualize their test environments, but admins should exercise caution as product direction and design continue to evolve.

Emerging virtualization tools such as Parasoft Virtualize, HyperQube HyperRange and QualiSystems CloudShell enable IT administrators to create the infrastructure required for testing virtualized environments prior to installing updates, such as servers and storage. These tools help admins keep pace with required updates and provide improved system utilization, system backup, system isolation and automation features, but testing challenges and lack of support for some system configurations can cause issues.

With the rise of agile application development, admins must constantly update business software. But before an update occurs, admins must test the code. Organizations support a variety of devices, such as laptops, desktops and smartphones, with a hodgepodge of OSes and browsers that run on various wireless and wired networks, all of which rely on different development tools.

"The influence of cloud is changing how applications are developed, leading to new solutions in the marketplace," said Mark Fabbi, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Challenges of testing

Admins must create the infrastructure required to test each possible update. Because of the various configuration options, this work is time-consuming and challenging. IT operations must build the test environment, identify problems and provide answers to fix them. Potential issues include file retention and what happens during system failures.

Specific testing techniques can automate parts of the infrastructure creation process. For example, creating system images is one area where improvements have taken hold. Here, IT operations create a block of code that allocates infrastructure features, such as server processing cycles and storage. They then build an image and use it multiple times.

Why admins should virtualize test environments

There are limitations to system image creation, such as keeping the environment up to date. Device configurations change constantly, which creates inconsistencies within system images. Admins who create virtualized test environments can address these problems.

Virtualization products create feature sets, such as networking and security functions, that plug into applications and speed up infrastructure development.

"We are seeing an application development metamorphosis with corporations moving toward virtualized environments based on cloud and containers," said Brad Casemore, vice president of datacenter networks at IDC.

Companies such as VMware are continually virtualizing system infrastructure and have found that virtualizing test environments provides admins with a host of benefits, such as improved system utilization, system backup, system isolation and automation features.

Tools that virtualize test environments

New products are emerging that take virtualized test environments a few steps further.

"Today, the focus is on automation, self-service and faster troubleshooting," Casemore said.

This focus has vendors trying to virtualize infrastructure allocation at the service level. These virtualization products create feature sets, such as networking and security functions, that plug into applications and speed up infrastructure development.

Parasoft Virtualize is an automated service virtualization product that creates, deploys and manages simulated test environments. Parasoft designed the software to mimic and test dependent application behavior that is still evolving, difficult to access or difficult to configure.

The HyperQube HyperRange offering lets admins create a test copy of their network infrastructure. The service enables developers to test traditional and virtual network connections and ensure that applications run the required steps to secure sensitive information.

QualiSystems maintains CloudShell, a lab automation product that configures and provisions development, test and demonstration environments. Admins can use the product for development, quality assurance testing, proofs of concept, training and support. With CloudShell, developers can model and deploy on-premises, cloud or hybrid workloads.

Missing pieces

Though these products help admins create virtualized test environments, they also have downsides. They offer features that work with many configurations but do not support all use cases.

Admins' support staff must develop skills so that they understand how to use these products. As a result, admins should invest in training.

The virtualization market is in a state of flux. Many of these new tools come from startup companies. Major software vendors that decide to gain a foothold in this space might acquire the startups and bring these virtualization tools under their umbrellas. As that step occurs, organizations must be careful because product direction priorities might shift after a purchase.

Software testing is a challenge in this agile era. New virtualization tools constantly arrive to help admins streamline the testing process. They have a modern design, such as an updated UI, and are relatively easy to deploy. However, the development environment is becoming more complex, so they are not an ideal fit in all use cases.

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